Dozens of songs, an abundance of reflection, four and a half hours and three hundred miles later, I made it to my first destination – Convict Lake in the Eastern Sierras. Stunning, though humble, commanding though serenely so, the clear, blue green waters sparkled with the late morning sun.
Winding my way through the Inyo National Forest bordered to my left by the breathtaking Sierra Nevada Mountain range, I had set off on a weekend, solo road trip to Mammoth Lakes, California with a few stops in mind. Along highway 395 is a turn off one might miss if he or she is not looking for it but if you’re lucky enough to be in the know, you certainly won’t regret the beautiful area a few short miles outside of the popular winter destination, Mammoth Lakes. After scouting out my own private alcove gently touching the pristine waters, I blissfully sat on a rock with the joyous momentum of having arrived and relished my second breakfast of the Saturday morning – a small meal with a stellar view.
I was embracing the solitude, welcoming its calm and its loneliness. I wanted to feel every single thing no matter how difficult or sad or surprising and I wanted to feel it in less than forty-eight hours. Even my emotions I try to control, however, my emotions didn’t need controlling on this trip. They were present and they were palpably shifting my reality. As I watched the boatloads of weekend campers and adventure seeking kayakers whisk by, I longed for that group outing, the synchronized laughter and the thrill of learning a new sport with close friends. While envying these nature-loving strangers, I was simultaneously learning about my self.
That night, after paying with pennies to enter the awe inspiring oasis that is the majestic Mono Lake, taking a scenic gondola ride to the summit of Mammoth Mountain, eating a pasta dinner at a local Italian eatery, unregrettably paying far too much for a glass of unique tasting Pinot Noir and pampering myself with a hot, hotel bath, I wrote in my journal:
I am buoyant. It is evening and I am winding down. It’s been a very long day of traveling and sightseeing and exploring. I have enjoyed myself greatly. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d be enjoying myself more if I were with (him). But, in contrast, I also couldn’t shake the feeling that I made the right call in ending things.
I’ve been hiking since about the age of twenty-one. It wasn’t until I began taking it seriously as a sport, challenging myself to longer mileage, higher altitudes and differing terrain that I truly fell in love with nature, more specifically, the terrain known as the mountains. Don’t get me wrong; at the age of twelve having seen the Colorado Rockies for the first time in my life, I was speechless. However, the connection I feel today when I’m on that mountain, climbing the ever-changing picturesque pathway to its summit, daring my lungs to defy me, pushing every muscle in my legs to their own perimeters, admiring and respecting my surroundings and the animal life that call such an environment home – that connection is remarkable.
The following day en route to hike Crystal Crag trail, a deer ran out in front of my car with thankfully enough time allowing me to hit the brakes. I patiently watched it gracefully dash across the two-lane road with hints of the early morning sun shone through the towering pine trees and then disappear into the shade of the bordering forest. Shortly after, I found myself at a dead end, obviously missing my turn, though fortunately discovering the abandoned and beautiful Horseshoe Lake. With not a soul in sight, I walked in the forty-degree weather in my denim shorts to its shore, snapping photograph after photograph of this unanticipated and glorious detour, knowing full well that the pictures would never do its splendor justice.
Finally, on my hike, I decided to stop and enjoy the spectacular early morning views of Lake George and Lake Mary from many feet above when I felt the unexpected familiarity of tears forming in my eyes. The beauty, the isolation, the peacefulness of those moments in a short span of time when this world is experiencing so much unrest – I wanted to bottle them up, clone them and hand them out to every single, living human being. It was like the Earth, the Eastern Sierras in particular were enveloping me in a cool, crisp hug with their jagged snow-capped peaks, whispering all of their secrets to me.